In preparation for the NBA playoffs, this is the first of four entries breaking down one key play or action central to the success of each playoff-bound team. Check back later this week for the remaining 12 breakdowns.
New York Knicks: The Carmelo Anthony Iso
New York was considered a relative afterthought in the Eastern Conference before the season started, but thanks to a shift in its offensive philosophy, the Knicks now represent the biggest threat to Miami. Their explosive offensive scheme leans heavily on their star forward to create mismatches in isolation plays all over the floor.
Knicks coach Mike Woodson gets Anthony into these spots in two ways. The first is by using false action.
By using a loop cut or quick down screen, the Knicks give Anthony just a little separation in order to cleanly get to his spot and use his jab-attack game. But because the team has played a vast majority of the season with one lone big (or sometimes none at all), it's also been able to just let Anthony walk into isos without any help.
The key to Anthony’s success is the newfound space he has to operate. With shooters spread around him, teams are forced to pick between letting Anthony attack an overmatched defender one-on-one or leaving an open shooter on the perimeter.
It was just eight days ago that the Milwaukee Bucks were left for dead on the side of the NBA highway. Losers of three straight, the team clung to the final Eastern Conference playoff spot strictly by default. The trigger-happy duo of Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings had seemingly shot the team out of any chance at relevance, and even the addition of the trade deadline’s biggest name, J.J. Redick, couldn’t inspire most NBA fans to care about the happenings in the frozen tundra of southeastern Wisconsin.
After a string of tight-knit and entertaining games, the Bucks have won four straight and are emerging as a potential playoff wild card in the East. Ellis and Jennings have been the catalysts for the most recent surge, but not in their usual fashion. Instead of shooting with reckless abandon, they've taken turns in the role of playmaker — with impressive results.
During their winning streak, Ellis and Jennings have combined for 78 assists, including 36 by Jennings in just the last two wins against Toronto and Utah. It is Jennings’s sudden switch from unapologetic gunner to reserved floor-general that's seemingly sparked new possibilities for a franchise mired in mediocrity.
A survey of the players and teams making moves in last night's NBA action.
1. Monta Ellis
Ellis had 34 points on 15-21 shooting last night, leading his Milwaukee team to their second overtime win in as many games (this time over the Jazz), and their fourth straight win overall. With J.J. Redick in the lineup, Monta's averaging 21.5 points, 9.3 assists, and 4.3 steals per game. He also does stuff like this.
In case you were busy singing John Philip Sousa tunes with your loved ones, here's what you missed in sports on Monday.
The New York Knicks overcame a 22-point deficit and a knee injury to Carmelo Anthony to beat the Cleveland Cavaliers, 102-97. Anthony, who's day-to-day with knee stiffness, said after the game, "I'm glad we won, but I'm really just glad Pablo Prigioni didn't put up a career night. I'm not at all ready for Prigloonacy."
The trade deadline, even a mild one, reshuffles rosters and hints at franchise priorities going forward. The changes and the signals combine to heighten the scrutiny and pressure placed on certain players. Here, we present a list of who — and what — is on notice after last week’s relatively uneventful deadline:
Join your Shootaround crew for some fake trades, pipe dreams, and beautiful, dark, twisted, deadline day fantasies.
The Book of Revelation
Golden State Warriors get: Devin Harris (Hawks), Earl Clark (Lakers), DeMarcus Cousins (Kings), Aaron Brooks (Kings) Los Angeles Lakers get: Josh Smith (Hawks), Andris Biedrins (Warriors) Atlanta Hawks get: Pau Gasol (Lakers), Tyreke Evans (Kings) Sacramento Kings get: David Lee (Warriors), Klay Thompson (Warriors)
The worst-case scenario is that this is the annihilation of many teams at once — but at least it will be entertaining! The Lakers reunite Dwight Howard with his old pal Smith, who gets reunited with his own Cliff Paul; Biedrins slides in at the end of the bench. The Hawks build around Al Horford, Gasol, and Evans, who gets a little more institutional structure — for him, this is one of those “change of scenery” reboots. The Kings lose two streaky young stars but acquire solid cornerstones for the future, whatever that concept means to them. The Warriors get a couple experienced guards who, on any given night, might offer a passable impression of a fourth-quarter triggerman. They also get the budding Clark and Cousins, a combustible talent who could really benefit from a God-fearing coach. Ivan Johnson gets thrown in just to give the Warriors an edge in weirdness. Consider it an homage to 2006-07, when the Warriors traded a third of their team away in January and went on one of the most thrilling playoff runs ever. — Hua Hsu
Fifteen of the league’s 30 teams have purchased a data-tracking camera system from STATS LLC that records every single movement on the court — the ball, the players, the referees, etc. — in three dimensions. The cameras can measure just about anything, and the teams that are using them best have moved far ahead in developing their own algorithms to measure whatever they wish — which team forces pick-and-rolls left most often, where corner 3s typically rebound when they miss, and how often a player accelerates from “jog” to “sprint” during a game.
(These are the subscribing teams: Houston, Boston, New York, Washington, Milwaukee, San Antonio, Oklahoma City, Golden State, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Orlando, Dallas, Minnesota, Toronto, Cleveland.)
Teams hoard their own data like kids hoard candy on Halloween. But STATS was kind enough to send Grantland a giant pile of exclusive information from the 2012-13 season, updated after Wednesday’s slate of 13 games, on a few general categories STATS tracks for all subscribing teams. The data focuses on both the player and team level, including drives to the basket, post touches, and touches at the elbow areas. From that pile, here are some Friday nuggets for your perusal:
We’ll always have the second half of the 2009-10 season. That's when the Bucks, under head coach Scott Skiles, became League Pass darlings in a way they never were before and haven’t approached since. The Bucks went 18-6 after swiping John Salmons from the Bulls at the trade deadline, and before Andrew Bogut’s season came to a scary and sad end in early April with a gruesome bad-luck fall on his right arm. Bogut had been playing the best ball of his career, scoring in high volumes from the post, getting to the line more, dishing assists out of the pick-and-roll, and playing the best individual defense that existed anywhere outside of Orlando.
Salmons went on a tear that would earn him a $40 million contract the Bucks have since pawned off on the hapless Kings (though Salmons, it should be said, has been a steadying presence in Sacramento this season). A delightful, fearless grasshopper of a rookie point guard in Brandon Jennings helped run what used to be Michael Redd’s show, and the Bucks for two months were legitimately terrifying. When Salmons, Bogut, and Jennings shared the floor, Milwaukee scored at a top-10 level, defended better than any team in the league — by a giant margin, per NBA.com — and scared the bejesus out of fans whose higher-seeded teams were potentially in line to draw Milwaukee in the first round. Fear the Deer was a real thing. It was perhaps Skiles’s crowning moment as a coach, though he had already transformed teams in Phoenix and Chicago into defensive powerhouses before wearing out his welcome in both towns.
Coming into the season, the biggest question facing the Milwaukee Bucks was one of fit. Their ceiling was going to be defined by how well their diminutive, shot-happy backcourt of Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis could co-exist.
Armed with a full training camp, it was left to head coach Scott Skiles — known for his defensive acumen — to devise a creative offensive scheme that made all the pieces fit. Like Rick Carlisle does year in and year out in Dallas, Skiles has built a system with concepts that allow his primary creators to not only play to their strengths, but also to avoid their weaknesses.
For both Jennings and Ellis, that means minimizing the number of times they're forced to create with the ball in their weak hand. Ellis, in particular, has diminished effectiveness when forced to his left, something that can occur quite often when teams use “down” side pick-and-rolls or execute a “weak” coverage on ball screens in the middle of the floor.
My first Salary Cap Fantasy Basketball draft occurred entirely online between 16 people who didn’t really know one another, and lasted five and a half days. This sounds like hell because it is hell. For the better part of a week, I sat on my couch and memorized the salary of pretty much every player in the NBA. I now know that Trevor Booker makes $1,385,280, I know that Alec Burks makes $2,111,160, which is about $300,000 more than Kawhi Leonard. I have read every article speculating about the potential value of James Harden, Brandon Jennings, and Stephen Curry’s contract extensions. I exchanged 400 e-mails over the course of the draft. I can’t remember what happened last week on 30 Rock because I watched it while trying to decide between Omer Asik’s and Greivis Vasquez's annual salaries.
We all know the Lakers are the single biggest story of the season, with four great players trying to reach an undetermined ceiling within the Princeton offense — and despite an uncertain bench whose only plus defensive big, Jordan Hill, is already nursing a herniated disc. Miami and Oklahoma City are powerhouses, the Spurs play the most pleasing brand of ball in the league, the Wolves will be without Ricky Rubio for much of the season, and both New York teams will be unavoidable. Let’s reach beyond the title contenders and big-market melodramas and find this season’s All League Pass Teams. Here are five teams who have the potential to be both exciting and good.
1. Rick Barry Angry Face
Dan Fierman was first to nominate this meme-worthy facial expression, then Bill Barnwell jumped in with this explanation: "I'm nominating Rick Barry for his role in trying to calm down the Warriors crowd during the Chris Mullin fiasco on Monday night, but specifically for his death glare in this photo. I saw this and I instantly started doing my homework, stopped asking my brother why he was hitting himself, apologized to everyone I've ever wronged, and broke up with every single one of his female descendants. Sorry, Mr. Barry!!!!!!"
In case you were out living a life of leisure, here's what you missed in sports on Tuesday.
The BYU Cougars staged a furious comeback — the largest in NCAA tournament history — to erase a 25-point deficit and beat the Iona Gaels 78-72. "What a great night for Mormons!" said head coach Dave Rose. Meanwhile, Mitt Romney stood alone in the glow of a TV screen at his campaign headquarters, sipping a V8 and just grinning the biggest, saddest grin you've ever seen.
On today's show, The Basketball Jones discuss second-half storylines to watch, trade rumors involving names like Rondo, Monta, and Beasley, things we'd change about All-Star Weekend, new franchises for "Clipper Darrell" to join, and whether Reggie Miller is a first-ballot Basketball Hall of Fame inductee.
All that, plus Leigh's "Tweet of the Weak," a horrific round of "The Pun-Gun Game," Jeremy Lin's boxer briefs, the NBA's best mascot, Kobe vs. LeBron, and much, much more.
(And after you listen, make sure to check out our hilarious All-Star videos.)